Discerning Use of Technology
As we continue to apply our approach to different difficult topics at the intersection of faith and science, The Colossian Forum recently facilitated a forum on discerning the wise use of technology at Lee Street CRC. This was the third of a four-part series at the church.
Rob Barrett, TCF’s Director of Fellows & Forums, began the forum with an interactive presentation that focused on discerning use of technology. In it, he described that many people feel themselves to be falling into unhealthy patterns of addiction to social media and living with constant technology distractions. There are also significant tensions between generations as the old and young adopt these technologies differently. The main presentation depended heavily on video clips to convey the grounding idea that technologies provide help for living better. But how can we use technologies well if we are unclear about our goal for living well as Christians? Without such a vision, we risk coasting along, falling prey to living lives shaped by worldly forces, which have different goals for our lives. Facebook has a vision for the good life that has us in touch with everyone all the time (through Facebook, of course!), which can simultaneously lead to us being out-of-touch with the folks right in front of us. The end-point of living on our smartphones is not necessarily positive, a point well-articulated by clips from Sherry Turkle at MIT, who has observed people using technology for 30 years.
The Amish provide a helpful counterexample as they continue their tradition of purposefully discerning and living out their technological choices. Rather than seeing themselves as unlimited and infinite, they admit that they cannot have both the kind of family life they discern as good and a television in their homes, so they choose the limitation of no television. The end-point of this way of life is a community of Christians willing to release things in order to live well. This was strikingly demonstrated by their willingness to forego vengeance after the Nickel Mines shootings. The effect of sacrifice for a higher good is profound, as well illustrated by Jesus’ willingness to forego his divinity and become nothing, as described in Philippians 2.
Throughout the entire forum series the discussion time had proven crucial for moving the ideas from the presenter’s words and context to the concerns and questions of the forum participants. Following the discerning technology presentation in the main sanctuary, forum participants spent 45 minutes in discussion around tables in the fellowship hall. These discussions focused on different technologies, their promises, and their actual usefulness for living the Christian life well. Teenagers were happy to explain all the advantages of communicating by text-messaging to the dinosaurs around the tables. And indeed, there were many ideas for discerning ways that texting could help Lee Street live out its mission of “making mature disciples.” The older participants then had an opportunity to share the value of letter writing and suggest to the younger participants ways that a hand-written note can demonstrate love for another.
There was a clearly articulated need at the end for moving from forums that intervene momentarily into people’s lives to patterns of sustained engagement with TCF’s ideas. A church leader remarked, “We hear a presentation like this once in a blue moon, but the other message—that we can have it all—bombards us every hour of every day.”